Ask the Pastor: Are We Totally Sinful?
Don’t forget to submit your Bible questions to us – firstname.lastname@example.org or in the “Question Box” outside the sanctuary.)
The question submitted this week from a congregation member is:
Are we totally sinful?
Ephesians 2:1-10 speaks to this very clearly.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–
3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved–
6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We are in a far more serious situation than a bankrupt corporation. We are spiritually dead from birth.
- Diagnosis (2:1)
Paul declares God’s verdict on humanity: a living death. He says to these young Christians at Ephesus, “You were dead, spiritually dead. Not sick, but dead.”
In Adam, we all fell, died spiritually, as Paul says elsewhere in Romans.
As Jonathan Edwards says of mankind: “Self-love became absolute master of his soul.”
We have been rebels against God from our birth (Psalm 51:5; Jeremiah 17:9, etc.) and all that’s good. “Total depravity” doesn’t mean we’re all as bad as we can be; it means there’s no area of our life that hasn’t been touched by this rebellion. We can see there’s something badly wrong with our world.
This adjective “dead” highlights the seriousness of Paul’s description of their condition; there is no condition more serious than death! This is the biblical diagnosis of fallen man—there is no life or spiritual vitality in us, a condition that is caused by our sin.
That’s why the simple explanation “nobody’s perfect” doesn’t cover it. Pay careful attention to what Paul says here: not disadvantaged, not sick, but dead.
- Nature of this death (2:2):
In verse 2, Paul refers to the “ways of the world.” This indicates that the Christians had heightened affection for things that were not of God. The Christians had followed the ways of the world without resistance, showing the deadness of their sins.
Our death is a death marked by activity—going, doing, serving, following, forfeiting, obeying, gratifying, craving, desiring, & thinking what you shouldn’t. It is marked, above all, by disobedience to God (v. 2).
We are tempted by so many things. We are not responsive to God. It is a spiritual death toward God. We are by very nature followers. We will follow something, and Paul says it is the desires of our own flesh. Anyone who commits sin is a slave and servant of sin. This death is a being left alone, bound to serve sin.
This is also true because they followed the evil adversary—Satan—who is also described here Paul says that Satan is at work in sons of disobedience. This is an old-fashioned idea in today’s world. But perhaps this is one of Satan’s chief means of accomplishing his war against God and His people: to make the world unaware that he exists.
It is our tendency to think of Satan’s work as occurring outside of ourselves; for example, to blame Satan’s work in situations or in other people as the temptations that cause us to sin. “Satan made me do it,” some people say.
Yet, Paul presents Satan’s work in a different manner in this passage; he stresses that the problem is not outside of ourselves, but rather the problem is our corrupt hearts, which willingly and freely satisfy our worldly lusts. The entire storyline of the Bible is one of constant sin, which would prevent God’s acquisition of us.
In other words, the Bible doesn’t teach that this depravity negates God’s image in us. All of us, Christian or non-Christian, are made in God’s image, but our rebellion has marred that image and left us in spiritual death.
If you know the truth about your heart, you won’t—and can’t!— glaze over this fact. Reader, surely you sense this in your own life. Some people try to alter this message because they find it unpalatable, but the appetite of a spiritual corpse should not determine the taste of the meal we serve (2 Tim. 4:1-6).
- Extent (2:2-3)
This death affects us all (vv. 2-3). That’s everyone. That’s you. That’s me. Paul’s not talking about a small group, but the whole human race (see also Romans 3:23). All of the Bible agrees that people are only good comparatively speaking (not essentially).
If you aren’t a Christian and this idea seems strange to you, talk to a Christian friend. He/she will be able to point you to the Gospel.
Christians, if this is true, it should give us an outgoing compassion toward people. If this is true, everyone on the planet is spiritually dead, apart from the life-giving work of God’s Holy Spirit. What this should do for our evangelism and our outreach!
- Outcome (2:3):
The outcome of this spiritual death is God’s wrath (v. 3). Some Bible translations have “objects” of wrath; other translations read “children” of wrath. The idea is that we are owned by wrath.
The actions that we have taken in rebellion against God show that we deserve God’s wrath. Often, we disconnect our disobedience from God; we see that we are disobedient, but we pretend that our rebellion is not ultimately directed against God. Yet Paul makes clear that as we abided in our sins, so also the wrath of God appropriately upon us.
Paul is writing about God’s rightful wrath; it is completely in line with His commitment to the true, the good, and the right. God isn’t reluctant to judge those who are more committed to their sins than to God. We can’t ignore this theme of wrath in Holy Scripture without ignoring God’s righteousness as well. That’s why you need to realize the urgency of telling people about their state. May God make us a compassionate church, more jealous of God and His honor.
A few application points can be made from this.
- For the Christian, when was the last time that you reflected on the deepness of the hell from which you were saved? A list of your sins would show that the problem of your rebellion against God was a radical problem that demanded a radical solution.
- For the non-Christian, when you come to church and are surrounded by many Christians, remember that you are in fact surrounded by a group of once-dead people.
THE GOOD NEWS:
Ephesians 2:4-7 calls us to see the character of God, especially His mercy and grace. In verse 4, we see the clemency of God, shown to the guilty. God is not poor toward us in displaying His mercy, but is rich in showering His mercy. Many people will not see this mercy, because they refuse to repent of their sins. It is important to remember that we will never find mercy until our sin is exposed and we see that we need mercy and understand that God is the only source of this mercy. The bad news makes sense when the good news is shared–the Gospel!
God is also full of grace, and we can define grace as unmerited favor from God. When we describe God’s character as gracious, it means that He gives to His people far more than they deserve. In verse 4, Paul emphasizes this grace through two short words: “But God.” We are sinners in rebellion against God, “but God,” who is rich in mercy, has intervened on our behalf. We deserve and have earned wrath, but God has redeemed us freely and has, in His mercy, purchased us. What a God we serve!
Why does God do this miraculous, merciful work in us? For His glory! Ephesians 2:7 is often overlooked; yet this verse is important, because Paul stresses that God accomplishes conversion in order to reveal Himself as kind. Moving to verse 8, Paul says the goal of the lives of the converted is to see God glorified, that is, out of gratitude for His kindness. Paul makes clear that God’s kindness, mercy, and grace are incompatible with boasting of ourselves.
Faith, and all of salvation, has always been accomplished by means of God’s grace. How can it be any other way? Dead people do not believe! We are saved by grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone for His glory alone!